Eugene Atget
Famous Photographers Of Urban Landscapes

Eugene Atget was born in Bordeaux, France in 1857. He studied as an actor at the Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique in Paris but left before taking any exams. Even so he worked as an actor in Paris for some time, where he met his life companion, the actress Valentine Delafosse.

Eugene Atget - Rue Boutebrie

His early working life was rather varied, from acting to painting and even being a sailor for a period of time. However he also owned a camera and was a keen photographer and at the age of 40 he turned to this photography art form for his career.

Eugune Atget - 1924

Eugene Atget noticed that there was a demand for pictures of the old Paris and he spent the early part of his photographic career building up a portfolio of work and clients in this field. His work included photographing old buildings, street vendors, architectural details and buildings that were about to be demolished.

Much of his work was aimed at artists and stage designers who would use his photographs as visual aids for their own work.

Atget used only an old wooden 18 x 24cm camera rather than anything modern at the time, as he said that they worked faster than he could think.

In 1920 he sold 2,500 negatives of his work to the Caisse National des Monuments Historiques for around 10,000 francs. This gave him the financial freedom to pursue a more personal preference in his work, which included domestic interiors of people of various social classes, neglected statues, portraits and close up work.

Atget died in Paris in 1927, after which a Bernice Abbott who he had taken a portrait of shortly before his death, bought a large body of his work and began to promote it for its pure photographic qualities. She did this tirelessly until in 1968 New York's Museum of Modern Art purchased his work.

Eugene Atget's Style

Eugene Atget - Au Tambour

Many of Atget's clients were more interested in the detail of the picture rather than in any photographic art and this reflected in his work. Often his own shadow can be seen in his work.

The use of an old heavy camera and a wide-angle lens to capture more detail in his work often caused radical perspectives and vignetting in the upper corners.

He also liked to use long exposures and slow plate films which would cause halation and blurs from moving objects.

He would often work early in the morning to avoid people appearing in his work and in doing so some of his work appears very dreamlike and deserted.

These traits in his work although unimportant Atget himself is what many collectors have to come to love about his work.

Bernice Abbott on Eugene Atget

Taken from "The World of Atget (1964)" where Bernice Abbott connects Atget's early work as an actor to his photography saying "Interrelation of actor with audience developed a psychology for human exchange and sympathy, evident in his pictures of people, who appear to have cooperated with the photographer."

To Atget the visible world became the stage; man himself and the effects of man, the great drama.

Men and women in the Paris streets became the cast of characters. He knew how to dramatize his subjects, but his photographs were never merely theatrical.

The stage was now transformed to the larger scene in front of his lens, and the photographs repeatedly suggest the stage setting which one beholds after the curtain goes up."